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Looking For A Partner On The Quiet

A South Auckland company is quietly promoting the success of Kiwi innovation as it seeks a partner to mass-produce its digital processor that cancels out noise with . . . noise.

Earlier in the year, Digital Technologies Ltd announced it was working on an "active noise controller". Now, after more than two years of development, a prototype has been proved to work and is ready for production.

The product has huge worldwide potential for use not only by the general public, but also in the aviation industry, on the industrial shop floor and the military. It is the brainchild of aviation consultant Norman Taylor of Digital Technologies, and his business partner, Mark Donaldson. The development work was done with the help of Technology New Zealand investment.

Mr Donaldson originally worked on the project as a Master of Engineering student funded by Technology New Zealand's Graduates in Industry Fellowships.
Simply put, the "active noise controller" produces noise to cancel out noise. "But it is half a wavelength behind, at the same volume and frequency, so it cancels out the original," Mr Taylor says.

He says his company has received several inquiries about the controller from around the world and a partner is likely to be an overseas company.
"We're going to need help to produce this in commercial quantities. There certainly isn't the capacity in New Zealand to produce the computer chips that are required, in any great quantity."

Giving an example of how it works, he says: "Imagine you're in an aeroplane and watching the video, and you're trying to follow the sound track through your head-set. You can't hear the movie very well because there's too much noise around you. A microphone inside the head-set picks up that same noise, reproduces it, but delayed, which cancels it out, so you can hear the movie."
He says the processor has the potential to fit into a matchbox. "For example, in an aircraft it would be in the seat arm-rest or in the lead to the head-set."
Or it could be in a computer chip in a head-set. Mr Taylor says the device could lead to workers wearing lighter head-sets.

"For example, you wouldn't have to wear such heavy ear protection to drown out the noise of your Kango hammer. Or it could mean lighter ear protection for workers in noisy factories."

He says the device could be inserted into the head-sets worn by tank crews or those worn by pilots. "The flight-deck of a Boeing 747 is not particularly noisy – you can have a conversation in reasonable tones there. But smaller aircraft generate a lot of noise, so lighter head-sets would be an advantage."
He says Technology New Zealand's investment in the project was essential to its success. "We had nothing to begin with. The project was high-risk and Technology New Zealand gave us the helping hand we needed to make it work."
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